Sons of heart-healthy mums more likely to live 10 years longer: Study
If caregivers, usually mothers, practise a healthy lifestyle, children are likely to continue those behaviours
It is not just a mother's love that endures.
A woman's influence on her children's health persists well into late middle age, according to a study published in the November issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The study, which enrolled almost 2,000 men and followed their families over 46 years - from 1971 to 2017 - found that the sons of women with heart-healthy lifestyles live nearly a decade longer without developing cardiovascular disease than those whose mothers have unhealthy lifestyles.
The study looked at the influence of both parents on offspring but found that men had little influence on their children's heart health in later life apart from the genes they passed on to them.
According to Dr Rohit Khurana, senior consultant cardiologist with The Harley Street Heart and Vascular Centre at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, told The New Paper: "While a pregnant woman's cardiovascular health (CVH) and lifestyle choices during pregnancy can affect her offspring's CVH, long-term CVH is also affected through parental behaviours and environmental influences.
"Children observe and acquire health behaviours within the family environment, with role modelling by primary caregivers being a significant contributor to children's long-term lifestyle choices.
"If primary caregivers, usually mothers, practise and instil a healthy lifestyle of balanced diets, regular exercise and minimal to zero alcohol and tobacco intake... their children are likely to continue those behaviours in adulthood.
"Those children will then pass good habits down to their children, thereby decreasing the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) within families for generations."
He added: "The research shows that parents, particularly mothers, are the gatekeepers of their children's CVH during formative years, which influences adult life. Numerous studies have proved that good lifestyle choices are a greater determining factor compared with genetics when it comes to optimal CVH."
Why is the positive health impact more noticeable in sons than daughters?
According to the study, CVD incidence rates were higher among sons than daughters, (with one reason being that) women are less likely to indulge in risky behaviours.
For example, according to the World Health Organisation, about 40 per cent of the world's male population smokes, compared with only 9 per cent of women, and men are almost twice as likely to binge drink as women.
Studies also show that women generally eat more healthily and consume more fruit and vegetables than men.
Finally, women develop CVD later in life, after menopause and typically in their 60s or older; so fewer of the female participants in the study had reached the age when we would expect to see signs of CVD.
The report found that apart from instances of passing on hereditary condition or propensities, fathers seemed to have less long-term influence on their children's health. Why is that?
Mothers are still the primary caretakers of young ones, with more direct daily influence on diet and behaviour than fathers. They are still more likely to be disciplining, providing emotional support and generally monitoring the daily activities of their children.
What can mothers do to ensure they have a heart-healthy lifestyle and pass this on to their children?
Taking good care of your CVH during pregnancy is important because the heart works harder by increasing the body's blood volume to support a growing baby.
If you are a diabetic, a smoker or have high blood pressure during pregnancy, each of these things makes it harder for your heart to pump extra blood throughout your circulatory system, increasing the likelihood of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity.
This does not mean women with CVD risk factors should not get pregnant - it just means they should practise good preconception heart care including smoking cessation, cutting back on alcohol and weight management through regular exercise and a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre.
After women give birth, they should continue practising healthy behaviours at home as good examples to help children make positive choices, which become lifelong habits.
Telling children what to do will not always work as they need to see parents walk the talk.